Look, let's be honest. Rush is always going to take crap from a certain segment of the critical media. It's just the way it goes. There's a mindset in Rock that says you can't be "normal," or a musician that strives to become as proficient as possible at your instrument, and be relevant. That a raging heroin habit, and a simplistic tune slapped together from 3 chords is the height of achievement in the genre.
What can three reasonably well-balanced, incredibly talented, guys give us that can even stand up to the damaged psyche of a Kurt Cobain, or an Axl Rose. How can impeccable musicianship stand up to the raw energy of Johnny Rotten, or the anger of James Hetfield. How can a band that takes inspiration from science fiction, fantasy, and Ayn Rand, compare to the blues mainlining of Eric Clapton, or Jimmy Page.
Well, frankly, that's a bunch of crap.
I don't frankly care if some guy (Read: Jann Wenner) at Rolling Stone doesn't get them. I get them, and, while I appreciate RS liberally jerking off Bruce Springsteen on a regular basis, I don't need them, or anybody else, to validate that opinion. I know that the band I saw last night is one of the greatest bands, ever. How many other bands have a lineup that has been unchanged for over 35 years, still manage to release compelling music on a relatively regular basis, and write music that, over and over, connects with their audience, deeply, on both an intellectual and emotional level. To paraphrase Matt Stone from the recent Rush: Beyond the Lighted Stage documentary, "if you don't give it up for them now, you're just being an old dickhead."
Which isn't to say everything is perfect, all the time.
The 2010 Time Machine tour is a kind of "escape from the studio" outing. The band has recorded several tracks for a forthcoming album called Clockwork Angels, and, in an experimental move, decided if getting themselves to the "top playing shape" they find themselves in after a tour might drive the finishing of the album to better results. There are two new tracks that have been released from this project, "Caravan" and "BU2B," and both were played last night. Also, Rush has jumped on the "full album" craze sweeping most legacy acts these days, and are performing 1981's Moving Pictures in it's entirety (including "The Camera Eye," which has gone unplayed for 28 years).
As usual with Rush live, there's a strong visual element. The set is decked out in a "Steampunk" style, Alex Lifeson has newly designed amplifier cabinets in the style, and the Chicken Rotisseries that backed Geddy Lee on the Snakes and Arrows tour have been replaced with an Jules Verne-style "time machine." (Lee no longer uses on-stage amps and cabinets, plugging his bass directly into the PA system. This has led to a string of whimsical replacements, like a washer and dryer set.) As usual, there's also a lot of video presentations, from amusing skits featuring the band to open both of the two sets, to a really hilarious closing film featuring Jason Segel and Paul Rudd reprising their Rush-worshiping characters from I Love you, Man. There's also video material for many of the songs, and amusing Monty Python-like animations preceding each Moving Pictures track, incorporating elements from the album cover. The show looks great.
It sounds great, too. As usual, the sound was impeccable. However, the first few songs of the first set seemed a little clunky to my ears. Which, I suppose is to be expected. This was only the fourth date of the tour, and elements are getting worked out. Although the opening Number, "Spirit of Radio," was pretty damn tight. It's been a staple of the last few tours, so that's really not surprising. It didn't take long for the guys to get right in the groove, and things really started to click with the instrumental "Leave That Thing Alone!" This led into an amazing, thematically unified run to end the first set, "Faithless," "BU2B," "Freewill," "Marathon," and "Subdivisions." I found myself very emotional as "Marathon" led into "Subdivisions," being two of my favorite Rush tracks, and ones that I connect with on a direct, emotional level (take that, Jann Wenner!).
After a short break, and the intro film, the second set commenced with the full performance of Moving Pictures. It was exciting to hear the full album, but I got the impression that Geddy was a little bored. He's made a few comments that indicate he might not be overly found of tracks like "The Camera Eye," and I felt that a little. The show round out with another new track, "Caravan," Neil Peart's always-expected, always-amazing drum solo (and I can't stand drum solos 98% of the time), and selection of more popular tracks (Selections from "2112," "Closer to the Heart," Working Man," "La Villa Strangiato").
All-in-all, a three hour show that never seemed dull or ponderous, and, literally, left me wanting more. There's not many of your young, "relevant" bands out there that can pull that off, so you hipsters can suck it. I'll admit, I would like to see them switch up the setlist more often, but I'm probably spoiled by Springsteen. Once the first show setlist gets out on a Rush tour, you know exactly what they'll be playing for the entire run. That wasn't that big an issue pre-internet, but now that it's up for the whole world to see 10 minutes after the first show ends...you kinda wish for more surprises. Although, for the video synch and effects matching, I understand why things need to stay pretty constant.
One last note; I write as a fan of this band. Your mileage may vary, but I find only the most close minded can completely dismiss the work Lee, Lifeson and Peart do on that stage.
Video Intro (The Real History of Rush Part 1)
The Spirit of Radio
Time Stand Still
Stick It Out
Workin' Them Angels
Leave That Thing Alone!
Video Intro (The Real History of Rush Part 2)
The Camera Eye
Drum Solo (Love For Sale)
Closer to the Heart (with new 12-string acoustic intro)
2112 (Overture/Temples of Syrinx)
La Villa Strangiato (with polka intro)
Working Man (reggae intro)
Video Outro (I Still Love You Man)
The masters at work (From the Snakes and Arrows tour)
I also leave you with the news that I will be offline for the rest of this week. So, this is your only blog post until next Monday. Also, apologies for the silence on Thursday and Friday, I got hit with a nasty, nasty cold, and I just didn't feel up to it.